I took the pod off the car May 28, 2018

I took the pod off the car.
For most people, having a place to unload their traveling gear would bring a sigh of relief. Me? I am aware there is an unsettled nodule of panic in my chest.

It may have something to do with not having had the same mailing address for longer than a few months in several years. (Don’t even ask how many phone numbers I’ve had!)

Ignore that sleeping bag draped over the water bottles on the floor between the seats.

Yes, I have tents (plural) in the back, along with other varied and sundry camping equipment.

Eventually, I’ll add canned food and “emergency” chocolate.

You know. In case the dogs and I want to take a road trip and stay overnight.

Which we’ve done collectively for the past three summers. Back and forth from Connecticut to Arizona (twice), with variation on a theme, from Connecticut to Montana, and then, from Montana to Arizona – which is where we are.

I like Arizona. I even love Arizona. But I am not sure I actually want to stay. I look around me, and see cattle grazing on endless hills, dry and drought-stricken brush in the loveliest shades of sage and cedar green, an eternally blue sky, and, Thank you, Campers, not a wildfire plume on the horizon – and there is a lot of “horizon” where we are. But, what about Idaho (snow and majestic mountains)? Or maybe California (coastline and vineyards)? Or, what the heck, I could always go back to Pennsylvania where I was born. Or to Western Massachusetts and be around friends. Or New Jersey, to be with other friends… ok, no, not New Jersey (Sorry, Jennifer).

It isn’t that Arizona isn’t wonderful. I have a job I enjoy. I live where I can hear coyote sing. I awake to the sound of cattle ambling by on the dirt road that runs by the RV. There is a white-faced cow who has taken a special interest in me and the dogs. We refer to her as Mother. ‘Haven’t seen her calf yet, but rumor has it, there is one on the way.

But it’s this concept of “staying” that has me anxious  – you know, like not moving.  Not starting over. Not being the only person I know for hundreds of miles around.
I know where to shop. I have several churches I call my own.
And, I can take ballet classes (Ballet White Mountains, Pinetop), swim in a heated pool (Show Low Aquatic Center), and kayak on the lake (Sunrise – Big Lake – Lyman Lake).
Plenty of hiking, walking, exploring (just step off the porch).
Dead things from 220 million years ago lying about not too far from here (see “Growing Small”).

What’s not to love? Why would anyone want to leave?

Which seem to be the questions I have been asked since I won that trip to Disneyland when I was twelve, and flew over the Rockies, and then out over the Pacific before turning to head back to Baltimore, Maryland… and came home with a serious case of Wanderlust.

From there it became absolutely necessary to explore Philadelphia (by bus and train, an hour from Home). Later Boulder, Colorado. Then, Missouri. Ocean City, Maryland. Newport, Rhode Island. Scotland, Connecticut. Huntington, Massachusetts… and then …

My family worried about me. Some of them still do.

“Why can’t you find a place and settle down! What’s wrong with where you are? You are just like your Aunt Violet!”

I never knew whether or not they meant this as a compliment. Aunt Violet had worked on the Queen Elizabeth II and had traveled the world. I knew her when she had retired and was living in Flushing, Long Island. I spent ten days with her when I was thirteen traipsing all over New York City. Other than informing me she spoke with her deceased husband in the room I was going to be sleeping in –  Great. That’s a little creepy – I thought she was perfectly fine.  The woman was in her “golden years” and she walked me almost to death, fed me wheat banana bread with cream cheese (I was still in the pizza and French fry phase), and introduced me to friends of hers from Switzerland and Holland.

Sure. Maybe I am like my great Aunt. I know I had a lot of fun shopping at Macy’s and taking the cruise around Manhattan. I traveled there by myself on a Greyhound bus. Chatted with strangers. Saw the World opening before me. What’s not to love? Why would anyone stay in the same place when they could go somewhere new, different, exciting, sometimes weird, occasionally terrifying.

We live on a really cool planet. And, while I might absolutely without reservation with no good reason to leave and be madly in love with wherever I am, I am aware that I haven’t seen Deschutes River (Oregon), or Mount Rushmore (South Dakota), or …

I took the pod off the car.
I wonder what happens next.

 

 

Growing Small May 12, 2018

Growing Small

Amy Lynn Reifsnyder

May 14, 2018

How do I tell you that since participating in Petrified Forest Field Institute’s Fossil Dig east of Blue Mesa, I look out my front door differently. What could I tell you that would bring to you the same sense of adventure, the same appreciation, the same excitement that came along with the dig?
Should I tell you that, when I was a teenager, my younger brother –  who fancied himself my elder – told me to “act my age.” I didn’t know what he meant then; I still don’t know what that phrase means. I mean, come on. I was born in 1961, but on Saturday, May 12, 2018? I was – oh, maybe 10.

See, the last time I intentionally dug for fossils, I was in Mrs. Horst’s fifth grade class. We had a field trip to look for fossils of ferns and bivalves somewhere in the hills of Pennsylvania.

Last summer, I met a family while camping in Tonto National Forest.  The husband/father cracked open a stone for his son, and low and behold! A fossil appeared! How did he know?

How do you find fossils, anyway?

It takes dirt. Time. An awl. A couple of brushes. Knowledgeable scientists. Patience. An opportunity offered by Petrified Forest Field Institute (www.petrifiedforestfieldinstitute.org).  And bright, mid-day light to find fossils in the “bone layer” of the mound we went to work on in the colorful badlands of the Petrified Forest National Park. We started the day with a tour of the research facilities located behind the Painted Desert Visitor Center, on the Interstate-40 end of the park. There we learned about the phytosaur, whose partial skull was on display. Handsome thing, it is, with a toothy snout about as long as my forearm. Looks kind of like a crocodile with shark teeth. But it isn’t a croc. It is a descendent of the archosaur, and is a distant relative, but it is a phytosaur – who knew?

The paleontology team, comprised of Bill Parker, Chief of Resources; Adam Marsh, Lead Paleontologist; Ben Kligman, Paleo-Intern; and Chuck Beightol, Term Paleontologist, worked patiently with myself and four others as we unearthed any number of fascinating items buried in the rock. I found a vertebra of I-don’t-know-what, but it was still exciting. I mean, look. Here we are in 2018 and I unearthed a bone from a reptile which lived somewhere around 220 million years ago. MILLION. Not last year. Not the year before. Not my granny’s birth year (1900), but 220 million years ago.

Kids think I’m old at 57. I suddenly felt like a youngster, a whippersnapper, a 10-year-old. Someone my age, you might think, might know a thing or two, but suddenly, I was aware that there is oh, so very much more to know – and it is under our feet.

We spent most of the day kneeling or lying in the dirt, chipping, sweeping, and prying rock apart to see what we could see. Marsh kept an eye on what I was doing, and occasionally picked up an ancient fish scale that I had overlooked. (They are very small.) He supervised while I dug out coprolites (fossilized dung), some of which also contained scales.

Beightol observed from above the dig line, catching glimpses of remains we missed. Someone found a really tiny spinal column. Most of us found teeth. Parker identified an ulna. Kligman supervised handling of the “small details”.

It was a blustery day, and from time to time, a hat, a kneeling pad, or baggie would get away from us. This sort of distraction was actually beneficial, as it gave us a moment to look around. Some of us were waiting for Mad Max to come screaming over the horizon. For all I knew, we could have been transported to a different planet. But there’s no need for intergalactic travel to find something new and unusual. Simply get to know the world around you. Everywhere you go, there is something new and interesting to find and explore. Maybe it’s a bone from a reptile from the Triassic Period. Maybe it’s fossilized trees. Maybe it’s something as simple and remarkable as how the changing light creates new colors on the hills and canyons. No matter where you go, it’s a cool planet.

My world has gotten much bigger – and older – since Saturday. When I was little, I always wanted to be one of those people who made great discoveries. Well, for at least one day, I was that person.

 

Accepted for publication by Petrified Forest Field Institute and Navajo Times
On query elsewhere.

Photo by Lloyd E. JohnsonMe, Bill Parker, John and Julie McLean, Adam Marsh, Sandy and Lloyd Johnson, Ben Kligman

 

Slough May 6, 2018

Slough

Amy Lynn Reifsnyder

May 6, 2018

 

There is always a space between an assignment and the beginning of an essay or article where I go through the Slough of “I Can’t Do This!” It’s an awful place, full of small, biting remarks – memories, if you will, of nasty comments made by people I no longer associate with: “You can’t do this.” “You’re never going to be able to make a living from your writing.” “No one will buy your work.” “No one even likes your work.” “Your too wordy.” And other such discouraging platitudes.

Take this morning, for example.

No, wait, let’s start a few pages back.

Several years ago, I started an online Master of Arts English program with Southern New Hampshire University. I took courses while traveling – which I strongly suggest you not do – and passed/failed/passed/failed/passed regularly. I took this past year off to re-evaluate my purpose. I am tired of failing.

I am on this endeavor for several reasons.

Reason #1. While I have a degree in Spanish, and have taught Spanish successfully, I have always felt like a poser. I am a white woman of German heritage who grew up in an English- and Pennsylvania Dutch-speaking community. I can read Spanish (and German), write Spanish (and German), and speak Spanish (and German). But when I speak Spanish, I sound exactly like a white girl who knows textbook Spanish. In a country where Spanish is becoming a semi-official language, there are millions of native speakers who should be teaching the language, not me.

Reason #2. I taught Reading in a high school several years ago. I was required to teach from a scripted text (“While holding the green card in your right hand, walk to the left and say …”) which all of the students had placed into based on standardized tests scores. All of the students had placed into this level repeatedly. Some of them were there for the fifth time. I was dismayed. Obviously, they hadn’t had a decent teacher. Come to find out, for several years, they didn’t have any teacher at all! In many schools in Arizona, the teacher shortage means classrooms full of students sit the hour with one another and have no instruction due to lack of educated and certified teachers.

Vanity of vanities, I thought, I taught English at the community college level. I’ll get my degree and certification in English and go and teach the joys and wonders of dangling modifiers, parallelism, subject/verb agreement. I will be able to knowledgeably discuss literary techniques, and impart this glorious wisdom to my students.

I’ll also meet and get to read and write and chat with other geeks like me … OOoohhh, the joy …

Ah, hem, I was saying:

Reason #3. I write. And, while Arizona and other Parts West may be willing to hire a teacher in her late 50s, at some point, I may want to stay out of the classroom, and actually finish any number of stories, screen plays, essays, etc., which I have started. I think it would be nice to have my work published, my films produced, my poetry engraved somewhere. I figure, nobody will care if I’m a wrinkled old hag pounding away on a keyboard, as long as what I write has merit. Taking writing courses will improve my writing style, teach me the jargon of ‘the business’, and maybe I can meet some folks along the way who will offer more encouraging support.

So, here I am, Sunday morning, with an essay due by 11:59 p.m.  Eastern Standard Time. I have homework. An essay explaining the difference between reading like a reader, and reading like a writer. I can do this. I’ve even taught this. So, why, at 6 a.m. am, do I wake with fear and dread in my heart? Why, considering, all the times I started and stopped and started and was stopped and started again, ad infinitum, do I feel like a Whack-a-Mole who should Just Stay DOWN!?

I won’t, of course. Despite – or because of? – the agitation, I’ll do my homework. I’ll work to improve my writing style. I’ll finish the film script by the competition deadline. I’ll tutor and teach writing classes. I’ll continue to grow. I just wish I could do this without plowing through the morass of “I Can’t” when I know I can. Drives me nuts.

*

I took the dog for a walk, and somewhere between the pond and the juniper, began composing what I’ll write later today: “A comfortable chair, a rainy day, a blanket, a cup of tea, and a good book are sometimes all you need ….”